From Rangoon to Manila:
The Good Shepherd comes to the Philippines
Introduction of Sr. Mary James Wilson RGS
Since 1910, the then archbishop of Manila, Msgr. Jeremy Harty, had been in communication with the Good Shepherd Mother House in Angers to request a foundation in his archdiocese. Two years later, on October 4, 1912 the first two Good Shepherd Sisters set foot on Philippine soil, after a 20-day voyage from Rangoon on the boat SANG-CHOON. So what are we doing now, gathered here at the Good Shepherd Chapel almost a hundred years from that historic voyage on a Chinese boat? Well…in today’s jargon, we are celebrating a special mass for a “soft-launching” to begin the 3-year preparation of the actual centennial on October 4, 2012.
The 2 sisters, Mother Constance Phelan, superior of the Rangoon convent and Sr. Mary Liguori Bourke, destined for the new foundation, were sent to assess the situation. Since they did not know anyone in Manila they planned to request hospitality from the French sisters in Assumption Convent. Great was their surprise when they were met at the pier by the Mother Superior of the St. Paul de Chartres sisters with a carriage drawn by two horses. Everything had been arranged by the Bishop of Lipa who was waiting for them at the Apostolic Delegation.
Lipa? But the request had come from the Archbishop of Manila two years earlier! Well, in God’s calendar, almost anything can happen in two years. And things did happen.
After Mother Domitilla LaRose, the Superior General, responded favorably to the ardent appeal of Msgr. Harty for a foundation in Manila, the affair was placed in the hands of Msgr. Ambrose Agius, the Apostolic Delegate. On his return to Manila, Msgr. Agius made a stop-over in Malta, his homeland, where he fell ill and died soon after. Thus the relevant documents never reached the persons concerned.
In the meantime, Bishop Joseph Petrelli of the Lipa Diocese, who also desired to have a Good Shepherd house in his vast diocese which at the time included the provinces of Batangas, Laguna, Cavite, Mindoro, Marinduque and Quezon, sent his brother, Abbe Gustave Petrelli, to the Mother House in Angers in November 1911 to plead personally for a foundation in Batangas. He must have been such a good envoy that Mother Domitilla readily acquiesced and promised to send sisters the following autumn of 1912. Fr. Petrelli sent the good news immediately to Lipa and Bishop Petrelli, practical Italian that he was, enclosed a check for 3,000 francs for the sisters’ trip together with his letter of thanks. He had also specified that the sisters coming to the Philippines should know how to speak English. Thus the two sisters who arrived in 1912 were Irish sisters from our thriving St. Bridget’s School in Rangoon, Burma.
From their overnight stay at the SPC Sisters, they were accompanied to Batangas by Bishop Petrelli himself, taking the 7 am train on October 5 and arriving around midday. Their triumphant arrival from the station on two carriages to the ringing of the church bells and a band, is a story in itself. But we shall leave that tale to our sisters of St. Bridget’s to tell themselves.
And what about poor Msgr. Harty who had been waiting for his shepherdesses since 1910? That again is another story that must be told another time as it took eleven more years before the Manila fold was opened in 1921.
For today, we simply want to recall and thank God for the safe arrival of the first Good Shepherd Sisters in the Philippines and to prepare for the anniversary of 100 years of shepherding in this Pearl of the Orient.|